With epilepsy, you may need to avoid activities that could result in injury (to you or others) if you lose consciousness. The precautions you need to take depend on the type of seizures you have and if they’re under control.
Healthcare professionals have cautioned people with epilepsy to avoid activities that could cause a seizure or lead to injury if a person has a seizure. But some people with epilepsy have shied away from sports because they were worried about having a seizure in front of other people. They were also often excluded, even from relatively safe sports, because of stigma or because others were scared or didn’t want to take responsibility for potential problems.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes a tendency to have seizures. Research has shown that the benefits of exercise for people with epilepsy outweigh the risks. Benefits include:
- improved mood and cognition
- physical conditioning
- social interaction
- reduced seizure frequency
Still, exercise may trigger seizures in some people, and some activities may be too high risk if you’ve had a seizure in the past year.
This article will explore what activities may pose a risk and what precautions you need to take. Here’s what to know about getting active with epilepsy.
Research on epilepsy and exercise
A healthcare professional can help you decide which activities are safe and which to avoid based on:
- the types of seizures you have
- how often you have seizures
- how long it’s been since you’ve had a seizure
- medication side effects
In some cases, you may be able to participate in nearly all activities if you’ve been seizure-free for a year or longer. Some sports and activities can put you and others at risk of death or severe injury. Healthcare professionals may advise you to forgo these.
In general, the highest risk activities (for you and others) are those in which a loss of consciousness can lead to injury or death. These
- climbing (such as mountain climbing)
- diving (from a platform or springboard)
- scuba diving
- ski jumping
- solitary sailing
- surfing and windsurfing
In general, people with poorly managed epilepsy should avoid climbing sports. Climbing at high altitudes can trigger a seizure. There’s also the risk of falling if you have a seizure during any climbing activity (even climbing a ladder), which can lead to injury or death.
But if it’s been a long time since you’ve had a seizure, you may be able to participate in some climbing activities. Or, you may be able to participate in activities like indoor rock climbing if you’re wearing a harness and have someone with you.
Talk with a healthcare professional to determine if your epilepsy would put you at risk for climbing activities.
Some situations can increase your likelihood of having a seizure, and diving is one of them. The change in pressure as you go deeper and an increase in oxygen pressure as you breathe underwater can make you
Some countries won’t let you dive if you have epilepsy. Others, such as the United Kingdom, will allow it if you haven’t had a seizure in 5 years and no longer have to take medication. Still, it’s best to discuss it with a neurologist first.
People with epilepsy are generally discouraged from participating in extreme sports that could lead to injury or death if a seizure occurs during the activity. That includes skydiving, hang gliding, and parachuting. There may be some exceptions, so speak with a healthcare professional.
A seizure that causes you to lose consciousness puts you and others at risk of injury or death if you’re driving a vehicle. Drag racing, dirt bike racing, and other activities may be too dangerous if a seizure occurs.
Can people with epilepsy drive?
According to the
There are some exceptions, depending on where you are. These may include exceptions for if you:
- only have seizures when you sleep
- have warning signs long before an episode
- don’t lose consciousness during seizures
Check with your local licensing office for your state’s rules.
Depending on the types and frequency of your seizures, you might need to take extra precautions during some activities. Talking with a healthcare professional is essential because your risks are unique.
Swimming and water sports
Swimming and water sports (like canoeing and water skiing) can be a great way to stay in shape. Be sure to take a buddy with you or stay near a lifeguard.
Note that swimming in a pool is safer than in an open body of water.
Bathing with epilepsy
Even bathing may pose a risk for people with epilepsy. Consider taking showers instead of baths to reduce your chance of drowning if you have a seizure. You may also consider a shower chair and handheld shower head.
If your seizures aren’t well controlled, have someone nearby check on you, and leave the door unlocked.
Gymnastics activities don’t usually cause seizures. But having a seizure during these activities can be dangerous.
Some gymnastics activities are more dangerous than others. Activities that involve heights may be of greater risk.
- Low risk: floor routines; pommel horse
- Intermediate risk: parallel bars
- High risk: high bar; uneven bars; vaults; rings
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, only people with well-controlled seizures should consider high risk gymnastics activities. Talk with a healthcare professional about whether to participate and what precautions to take.
Follow general safe cycling practices and wear protective gear, including a helmet.
If your seizures are under control and don’t make you pass out or interfere with your muscle control, it’s safe to ride where you won’t be near vehicles, such as in a park. If not, consider a stationary bike.
You may be able to horseback ride, depending on your situation. Remember to wear a helmet and have someone with you who knows what to do if you have a seizure.
Horse therapy can help some people with anxiety.
If your condition is under control, many contact sports are safe, including:
You should still check with a healthcare professional about your situation and whether a specific contact sport is a good choice for you.
Combat sports that involve blows to the head, like boxing or mixed martial arts (MMA), may be particularly risky. Head trauma can trigger a seizure for anyone, but especially if you already have epilepsy.
If training for your sport is very intense or requires early morning practice, consider talking with a doctor to see if you need to take your medication at a certain time of day. Practice and game schedules may even affect your sleep schedule. Sleep deprivation can trigger a seizure, so be sure you get enough sleep, even if you play at a competitive level.
If intense practice and conditioning lead to weight changes, like in wrestling, talk with a doctor to see whether you need to adjust your medication dose.
You can do many fun, low risk activities alone or with friends and family. They
- cross-country skiing
Exercise can help you feel better, function better, and live longer. Before trying new activities, talk with a healthcare professional about your risks.
Once you get started, keep these tips in mind:
- Follow all medical instructions.
- Wear protective equipment depending on the sport (e.g., bike helmet, knee pads, life vest).
- Bring a buddy.
- Stay hydrated.
- Take breaks.
- Don’t push yourself to exhaustion.
- Don’t exercise when it’s too hot.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Drink a lot of water.
- Get good rest.
Getting active with epilepsy brings a whole list of emotional, mental, and physical benefits. And it might even reduce your chance of seizures. Speak with a healthcare professional who can help you decide which activities to choose based on your unique situation.